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Kennedy Rain, Book 1

A Void of Magic

They trusted her to keep the peace between the paranorms. They made a mistake.

Kennedy escaped the family business when she turned eighteen. Now, an ill-timed vacation pulls her back to The Rain Hotel, the only known null zone on the planet. It’s a place where vampires can see the sun rise and werewolves can avoid the lure of the full moon. And it would be the perfect place for a paranormal wedding…if the bride wasn’t the local alpha’s daughter and the groom the scion of a vicious master vampire.

With a sexy werewolf determined to sabotage the wedding and dark forces threatening The Rain, Kennedy’s life is thrown out of balance when she’s forced to confront a past she swore to avoid. Ultimately she must choose: will she maintain the stability of the supernatural world…or will she destroy it.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

For the first time ever, I wished I were sitting through one of Dr. Campbell’s lectures. Boring was good. Boring was safe. Boring meant I wouldn’t say the wrong thing and start an interspecies war.

Nora Lehr, the only daughter of Octavian Lehr, who was the alpha of the Appalachian pack and quite possibly the strongest werewolf on the continent, turned away from the arched window. I met her gaze from behind my parents’ scuffed-up desk.

“Could you say that again, please?” I asked, polite as a neighbor asking for a cup of sugar.

Nora’s amber eyes narrowed. When I didn’t look away, she clenched her teeth in that oh-so-familiar way that took me straight back to high school. Spiders crawled up my spine, not because I was intimidated—her dominant-gene juju didn’t work on hotel property—but because I could practically hear the warning my mom had given me over and over again: Don’t antagonize the paranorms, Kennedy. They’ll eat you on the way to school.

They could eat me, but they wouldn’t. I’d learned that in sixth grade PE.

Nora slipped into her signature alpha stance, chin lifted, shoulders straightened. Her posturing had always annoyed the hell out of me. Five years away from home hadn’t changed that.

“On May sixteenth,” Nora said, leaving a deliberate gap between each word. “The Rain will host my wedding in the hillside gardens. The reception will immediately follow in the Silver Ballroom. You will reserve half the rooms and five suites. I’m prepared to pay all costs now. In cash.”

I held her gaze for another three seconds, then set my pen on the desk, taking the time to make sure the Hotel Rain logo was faceup. In other words, stalling, because that wasn’t what I needed Nora to repeat. It was the earlier part, the part where she mentioned the name of the groom, that had almost made me snort coffee out my nose.

I couldn’t let her see I was rattled though. Don’t show weakness in front of the paranorms, Kennedy. They’re always ready for an easy snack.

I took a few extra seconds to make sure the pen lined up precisely parallel to the edge of the desk.

I adjusted it half a millimeter.

Then half a millimeter more.

“You will do this, Kennedy Rain.”

If I’d been a wolf, my hackles would have risen. Nora expected obedience. The aggravating thing was, she usually got it. People—or rather, paranorms and the very tiny group of humans who were aware of their existence—knew her father was in charge of the strongest pack in the US. But even men and women who had no clue about the paranormal world went out of their way to follow her orders. Not only had she been born with the alpha gene, she’d been born beautiful too.

“My parents—”

“Would sign the contract.” Nora cut me off. “It doesn’t violate the treaty.”

Technically no, but good God. Her father would flip. Jared’s master would flip. The hotel, its workers, and my family would be caught in the middle, treaty or no treaty. This was not something I could authorize.

And it wasn’t something I should be discussing. I should be across town in Campbell’s class while my parents handled this lunacy.

My parents excelled at handling lunacy.

I tilted my head, studying Nora’s too-perfect posture. Was that why she was here? She thought I’d be easier to convince? That I was the weakest link in the family? She should know better.

I glanced at my cell phone. Mom still hadn’t answered my last text. I didn’t know where she and Dad had run off to, just that they were on a much-needed vacation somewhere with very poor cell service. The only communications I’d received from them since they left were a handful of texts saying they were having a good time and staying busy.

The last time I’d received a handful of messages saying they were busy, they’d been on a second honeymoon.

Or a third or fourth one. I didn’t ask for details. I didn’t want the details I already had. The only reason they were permanently etched into my brain was due to a tragically timed pocket dial—one of them had apparently rolled over in bed.

My roommate, laughing, had told me I should be grateful they still loved each other. I’d thrown my phone at her head.

I wanted to throw it at Nora’s head now. She didn’t have her supernatural reflexes here. I bet I could hit her.

“Put the date on the schedule, Kennedy,” she said.

I rolled my eyes toward the computer screen. May 16 was, unfortunately, wide open.

“Can’t you just marry somebody else?”

Nora’s smooth expression finally cracked, making her look more human than stepping into the hotel’s Null-zone had. “You are not serious.”

She couldn’t be serious. This had to be one of her stunts, a way to piss off Lehr and test just exactly how much he’d let his daughter get away with.

I stood. “Have you thought this through? Jared’s what? Three centuries old? You can’t have anything in common, and if you—”

“He’s two centuries old,” Nora snapped. “And we have everything in common. You don’t know him.”

“I know he’s a vampire.”

“He’s a person.”

“He’s Arcuro’s scion. His second-in-command. His freaking henchman. Your dad will kill both of you.”

“I’ll handle my father.”

“Really?” I crossed my arms. “I doubt that. I’ve met your dad. He’s kind of a hard-ass, Nora.”

“My father—”

“You can’t have a wedding here.” I rolled the chair under the desk, intending to walk around it and show Nora the door. Before I took a step in that direction, she grabbed the briefcase she’d brought with her and slammed it on the desk.

“Just put us on the damn schedule.” Her eyes punched the air with so much fury it felt like the Null had shattered. If I hadn’t been used to her flare-ups, I might have been intimidated.

She opened the briefcase, took something out, then dropped it on the desk. “Contract. Guest list. Payment.”

Against my better judgment, I glanced down. My gaze went straight to the money.

“Um.” I cleared my throat. “I don’t think we accept cash deposits.”

I met her gaze. She met mine. The German clock on the wall—a gift from one of our overseas guests—ticked in the silence. If my parents had chosen that moment to come home, my mom would have ordered me out of the room. She would have told me I was provoking a paranorm and that my job as a Rain was to keep the wolves, the vampires, and the other supernatural beings who might walk through our doors calm and happy.

That wasn’t because the family business was supposedly in hospitality; it was because we weren’t supposed to rock the boat. Stability in the paranormal world was paramount, and this hotel—our hotel—would become a battleground if war broke out between the species.

The briefcase of money lay open between Nora and me. My credit cards were almost maxed out—I wanted to look at it again—but I’d stopped deferring to paranorms years ago. I might not live in The Rain anymore or be immersed in the world of vamps and wolves and all things other, but I wasn’t about to back down. Besides, The Rain wasn’t the place Nora thought it was. It wasn’t an oasis. It was just another tool Arcuro and Lehr used to increase their power and influence.

“Please.” It sounded like Nora was pulling out a tooth, but since I was fairly certain she’d never uttered that word before, I took it as a submission.

And as a sign of something else.

“You’re really in love with him, aren’t you?”

Her nostrils flared, and I swear to God her eyes turned glassy.

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“And your father doesn’t know? Arcuro doesn’t know?”

“Not yet.” Fear flickered in her eyes.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. I’ve always been a sucker for tragic love stories. If she and Jared were serious about each other, it could turn out to be Romeo and Juliet to the extreme.

I sighed. “I’ll put you on the schedule, but my parents will take you off.”

“They won’t.” She lifted her chin, sounding one thousand percent confident. Welcome back, spoiled little rich were.

I countered her chin lift with a raise of an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you printed up save-the-date cards already.”

She gave me a smug smile. “You should check the hotel’s financial records.”

***

Check the financial records? What did she mean by that?

I didn’t get a chance to ask. Nora left as quickly as if she had her supernatural speed back, leaving me with my eyebrow still raised. It didn’t lower until I frowned at the computer. I wasn’t there to dig around in The Rain’s business operations. I wasn’t there to get involved at all. I’d made that mistake before, and it had more than bitten me in the ass.

A tap came from the door.

“Ms. Rain?” Wheelan, the hotel inspector, peeked inside the cracked-open door. “I was told to find you here.”

I hid a scowl behind a plastered-on smile. He shouldn’t have been sent up here to our private study. Neither should have Nora. We should be meeting downstairs in the main office where my parents conducted most of the hotel’s business. Sullens, the front-desk supervisor I’d met that morning, was being a jerk.

“All done with the—” My question became trapped in my throat when his gaze dropped to the still-open briefcase. Covering my mouth to cough, I ever so subtly tossed Nora’s papers inside, then slammed it shut. I didn’t think he saw the money.

“You need a signature?” I asked.

“Well.” Wheelan lowered himself into the chair, then placed a folder on the desk. When I’d spoken to him earlier, he’d been cordial. There weren’t any remnants of a smile on his face anymore. He looked closed off, like a man who was bearing bad news and bracing for someone to go apeshit on him.

“Is there a problem?”

He opened the folder. “A few problems, actually.”

Great.

“Your hotel has been around a long time. My records don’t show the date of the first build, but it appears the north and west wings, the restaurant, and the ballroom were all added later than the lobby. The north wing, in particular, is a problem. Do you know when it was built?”

Way before I was born. The Rain was one of the oldest hotels in North America, if not the oldest. It started as a tavern sometime in the eighteenth century, and its early history was… hazy. At some point, paranorms discovered the tavern and much of the land around it nullified all magic and supernatural abilities. That made The Rain the only place on Earth where vampires could see the sun rise and where werewolves could escape the influence of the full moon. It reminded them of what it was like to be human, and for wolves who had turned violent, it was their best chance at resetting their minds, their best chance at survival. But, of course, the vampires and werewolves fought over the right to stay here, so my ancestors expanded, building by building, to accommodate more of them.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Forty or fifty years ago?”

“That would make sense. Asbestos wasn’t banned until later.”

“Asbestos?”

“It causes cancer.”

“Oh,” I said. Then, after a short hesitation, I added, “Crap.”

“That’s not the only violation.” He turned the folder around, then slid it toward me. I flipped through the paperwork, glancing at the highlighted infractions: aluminum wiring in the older wings, blocked and locked emergency exits, a lack of a fire-suppression system.

I looked up. “We have a sprinkler system.”

He pulled the folder back. “Yes, but not the right kind. You don’t have enough water pressure for it to function effectively during an emergency.”

“We’ll just avoid emergencies then.”

Wheelan looked at me from under his bushy eyebrows. “These aren’t minor violations, Ms. Rain.”

Note to self: he had no sense of humor. “I understand.”

“If somebody gets sick and they trace it back to the asbestos, the lawsuit would bankrupt you.”

No one was going to get sick. None of the guests, at least. If a vampire or werewolf was exposed, the second they stepped out of the Null, their bodies would heal any damage that had been done.

“These issues should have been found and resolved years ago,” Wheelan said. “I can’t find a record of a previous inspection. Do you happen to have a copy in your files?”

As far as I knew, we’d never had someone inspect the place. A human snooping around our business wasn’t a great idea, but Wheelan had already started his work when I’d arrived, and I hadn’t been able to think of an excuse to get him to leave.

“I’ll look for the report,” I said. “Can you tell me why you came for an inspection now?”

“A concerned guest submitted a complaint.”

It had to be Nora, damn it. I was going to kill her. As long as she was on Rain property, I had a chance to do it.

“I’ll email you and your parents a copy of the report.” He closed the file and tapped it on the desk to straighten the papers. “Do you know when they’ll return?”

“The sooner the better,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“A few more days,” I said. “I’ll let them know your concerns.”

“They’re more than just concerns. If you can’t show that you’re making significant progress on rectifying each item, you won’t be able to keep your insurance. A grievance will be filed with the county. You’ll be shut down.”

That wouldn’t happen. The paranorms’ I’m-superior-to-you bullshit got on my nerves, but they had resources and power, and they would provide a buffer between us and any legal problems that might arise.

If, of course, they weren’t the ones creating the problems.

“We’ll make sure it’s taken care of,” I said.

“I hope so. I’ll be back next week.”

I stood when he did. “Next week?”

“You have to show significant progress. Contact your parents. Fix what you can. If you’re denied coverage, you can protest. That will buy you more time for repairs. Some of them won’t cost much. Start with those.”

I nodded. He was trying to be helpful, and this wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t mine or my parents’. We’d kept The Rain quiet and off the radar of human authorities. Nora had decided to take this action. But it was a blatant bluff. She would have to back off, or she would risk us losing The Rain.

After walking him to the elevator at the end of the hall, I said goodbye, then I returned to the study to call my parents. It wasn’t until I picked up my phone that I noticed the time.

I choked off a curse. My shift at Parlay started in just over an hour. The restaurant was a forty-five-minute drive. Totally doable if traffic didn’t suck, but traffic always sucked.

I shoved my phone into my pocket, the inspector’s report into my purse, then after the briefest hesitation, grabbed the suitcase. This was the study in our should-have-been-private residence on the top floor of the original inn, but I wasn’t going to leave someteen thousand dollars sitting in the open. We had a safe in the main office. I could shove it in there.

I fished my keys out of my purse to lock up. A literal key. Most hotels had cards today. They had flat-screen TVs in every room. They had Wi-Fi. I’d had to beg my parents to get wired internet when I was in junior high. They’d only agreed because I needed it for school. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about The Rain—Mom had lived here all her life, and Dad loved it and her enough to marry into this madness—but modernizing cost money.

Nora’s advice to check the financial records echoed in my mind. Running a hotel of this size and age was expensive. Money had always been tight. We had a steady income from the vampires and werewolves who stayed here, but we didn’t charge an exorbitant amount for a room and hadn’t raised prices in decades. Convincing the paranorms to accept any change at The Rain was all kinds of tricky.

I reached the elevator at the end of the hall. It opened before I pushed the call button, revealing a man inside.

Whoa.

Some men were attractive. This guy was stop-what-you’re-doing-and-stare gorgeous. He wore jeans that hugged muscular thighs and a brown jacket that did nothing to diminish the size of his chest and shoulders. He would have chiseled abs under that white shirt and biceps too big to wrap my hands around.

A slow, knowing smile spread across his face.

“Kennedy Rain.”

The mini-me doing flips in my stomach stopped midair. The arrogance in the way he said my name, like he knew exactly how he affected women, slammed a door on my libido.

“Can I help you?” My voice went flat.

The elevator door started to close. He stopped it with a hand, and his eyes roamed down to my feet, then back to my face.

“You’ve grown up,” he said.

“I assume you haven’t.” I was pretty sure he was a werewolf. They aged slowly, and I’d recognize him if we’d met before. He had the kind of presence a girl would remember.

His overconfident smile remained in place. “We need to talk, Ms. Rain. Your office?”

The door tried to shut again. He kept it open.

“The office is downstairs,” I said.

“This one’s closer.”

“This one’s private.”

“It wasn’t too private for the inspector,” he said smoothly. “And it wasn’t too private for Nora.”

No doubt his presence was about Nora, the longtime bane of my existence. Add that interest to his arrogance and the fact that he was allowed in the doors during the vampires’ occupancy, and he had to be a werewolf with a ton of power.

“You’re Lehr’s new second,” I said.

His smile was all charm. “My reputation precedes me.”

“Not really,” I said. “I just heard some asshole took out Wallace a year ago. You fit the description.”

The door attempted to slide shut again. This time, it beeped a warning it was obstructed. I was pretty sure it was supposed to beep the first time it failed to close.

“We can make this meeting brief, Ms. Rain, or we can make it as long as you want.”

Powerful paranorms were such a pain in the ass. Like Nora, this guy was way too used to getting his way.

“I’m running late.”

“Then by all means”—he waved a hand to the interior of the elevator—“enter.”

There was plenty of space to step inside, but all of it belonged to him. I’d be a sheep in his territory.

“I forgot something,” I said.

“You have your purse and a briefcase full of money. What else could you possibly need?”

A separate elevator would be nice.

After a quick calculation, I decided our conversation would be shorter if I stepped inside. Squaring my shoulders, I entered the elevator as if his presence had no effect on me. It helped that I had a lifetime of experience dealing with paranorms. They might lose their supernatural abilities when they entered the Null, but their personalities remained the same: superior and smug.

Lehr’s second let the door groan shut. The elevator gave a shimmy before it started down.

This was the only elevator on the property, and it was ancient. That fact had never bothered me before, but the wolf seemed to suck in all the air. He was watching me, measuring me, stalking me without moving even one of those very nice muscles.

“I’m Blake,” he said. “You should visit your parents more often. Things have changed in the years you’ve been gone.”

I ignored the pressure in my chest, the little ball of guilt I couldn’t quite shake.

“I do visit.” At least, I had a few times. Every time I did, I regretted it, so I made sure I was too busy to come home. It helped that my architectural degree was time-consuming and college was expensive. I had to work to pay for my books, my apartment, and the minimum balances on my credit cards. When my student loans came due, it was going to hurt.

Blake gave one of those easy, nonchalant shrugs that somehow made a guy ten times more attractive, and awareness prickled across my skin. I swear the elevator descended even more slowly than usual.

“Let me help you out, Ms. Rain,” he said. “You hand me the briefcase. I’ll return it to Lehr, and you won’t have to worry about repercussions from this little incident.”

“I’m pretty sure this is Nora’s money.”

“It’s pack money.” He held out his hand. Did he know what it was for? Nora had said her father didn’t know about Jared, and this was his second. He reported directly to Lehr.

When I didn’t respond, he lowered his outstretched hand. It didn’t feel like a capitulation though. It was more like he was scouting the territory to determine a new line of attack.

“You don’t want to be involved in this.”

“Involved in what?” I asked, extra innocent. That didn’t go over well. His eyes narrowed, and he faced me fully.

“Nora is making a mistake,” he said. “I know you agree with me.”

“Last I checked, wolves didn’t have mind-reading abilities.”

“We have body-reading talents.”

So much innuendo there. I didn’t let it affect me.

“Not on Rain property,” I said.

He snorted. “Some things aren’t smothered by the Null, and I don’t think you’re an idiot. You can’t give Nora what she wants.”

“You should take up this issue with her.” Speaking in ambiguities was fun.

He moved closer, apparently not entertained with the conversation, and damn, he smelled good, like a forbidden romp in the woods.

“Don’t make a mistake as well, Ms. Rain.”

My thumb slid over the briefcase’s smooth handle. If I handed over the briefcase, Nora would be his problem, not mine. Not my parents’. We didn’t owe Nora anything, and I’d told her the wedding wouldn’t happen. Five years ago, I’d vowed never again to get involved in paranormal politics. I could keep that promise right now.

I was oh so close to handing it to him, but a smile slid into his eyes. It was like he could read my thoughts, see that he’d won. To him, it was inevitable the little human would give him what he wanted.

If you give a wolf a cookie, he’ll walk all over your ass.

My quote. Not my parents’.

“No.” I stared straight ahead and tried to ignore the way he studied me. This wasn’t me getting involved; it was me not caving in to wolf arrogance.

We were still descending.

The sign to the right of the door caught my attention. Last inspection: 1995. It figured.

I made a mental note to add elevator upgrades to the inspector’s long, long list of required repairs.

We finally reached the ground floor, and the doors screeched open. I would have immediately exited, but I didn’t want Blake at my back, so I looked at him and waited.

He looked at me and waited.

If we were outside the Null, the stare down might have been impossible. Alpha werewolves made it feel as if the world’s gravity doubled. You wanted to look down. You wanted to drop to your knees. You wanted to do whatever it took to please them. Only strong paranorms could resist submitting.

Or humans who’d learned not to take crap from any wolf.

“Do you need an escort to the door?” I asked.

“Give me the briefcase.”

“I thought wolves had good hearing. I told you no.”

He closed the distance between us. I had to tilt my head back to maintain eye contact, but there was no way in hell I’d lower my gaze. No trampling me like a carpet. He could wipe his paws off on somebody else.

The elevator chimed and started to close. Blake reached past me to stop it with a hand; then he remained there, his arm blocking the exit.

God, he was huge. Even though he didn’t have his supernatural strength or speed, he could still snap me in two with his pinkies. His scent washed over me again, and the already small elevator compartment seemed to shrink.

“Get out, Blake, or I’ll have you removed.”

I swear yellow flashed in his irises. He didn’t like being defied. How far would he push this though? He could yank the briefcase from my hand—no problem—but I was a Rain. I had the protection of the treaty my ancestors had signed with the paranorms two centuries ago. Blake could intimidate and threaten and manipulate as much as he wanted, but if he went too far, he would violate the agreement.

Blake took another small step forward. He lifted his hand…

…and tweaked my nose.

“You’re cute,” he said. “See you again soon.”

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